The children in my Spanish program range from age 5 to 14, most of them functioning at novice-mid language level. How do I help them to understand and experience in a meaningful way Día de Muertos while maintaining 90% plus target language? My approach is multi-faceted and relies on our school community:
- Partner with other specialists: art, music and library teachers. These colleagues have been a treasure because not only can they explore different disciplines on the topic, they can help provide the holiday's context and meaning in English. Combing art projects for the ofrenda, singing traditional Mexican songs, and reading books in English about holiday, make the work in Spanish class so much sweeter.
- Link Día de Muertos to the current thematic unit in some way. In order to build connection and meaning, we explore the holiday through the lense of the current thematic unit. For example-easy connection to a unit that ties to family, but a unit that ties to food helps to give focus to our celebration-even our thematic unit on biodiversity and conservation has a connection. I found a great authentic resource on celebrating Día de Muertos in a sustainable way-using recycled materials, etc.
- Give lots of visual support. I love and use Spanish Playground's unit that provides a great resource for introducing the holiday in the TL. I use lots of photos and drawings to help stay in the TL during class presentations and discussions.
- Give scaffolded support for presentational speaking. The children talk about their families-I know that is not the culture in all schools, but in ours it is an important part of the school culture. My students have the option to remember and celebrate a loved one by placing items and photos on the ofrenda and/or talking to the class about them(every child has the option to pass-and many do). Since ground rules about respecting each child in the community, students' choices to share or not are respected-as are any emotions that come up. At the early levels, children are provided with a form to fill in..."Recuerdo a....Se llamaba....era...." They can then use that support to help them to share, using Spanish. At upper elementary and middle school levels, students have more language experience and are able to create more on their own with more detailed descriptions of their loved ones.
- Communicate with parents. Communicating the plan with parents also provides children with an opportunity to discuss and explore the holiday with their families at home, which enriches the in class experience.
- A School Tradition Because celebrating Día de Muertos is part of our school's annual traditions, children are able to participate many times over the course of their time at the school-giving them lots of practice and opportunity to see it from different perspectives and ages. Messages and language chunks are reinforced over a period of years.